Every year, the Higgins family gets together for a family reunion. Because several of us have boats of several types, this has happened at a lake the last few years. My brother Ralph goes water skiing, my brother-in- law Ted has a sailboat, while Marty and I go bird watching. This year, it took place at Pillsbury Lake up in the very tip of Lake County. This is a nice lake, much less frequented by the usual water ski and Jet ski crowd, because it is a little harder to get to, and also because we went there in the middle of the week. The north end of the lake is shallow and marshy and attractive to birds. Our flat bottom Kevlar canoe skims right over it.
Wednesday was very hot on the lake, so we didn't do any serious canoeing, although we went paddling several times to the local neighborhood around the campsite. I had considered not bringing the one-man ocean going kayak along, unless my nieces and nephews might like to play with it. When I mentioned this thought to my dad, he indicated that HE would really like to play with it, on calm water, since he had watched me use it in the ocean so many times. So it came along also. I tried taking it out and swimming off of it, and discovered that getting back in is a little more trouble than I expected, without all the extra buoyancy of a wetsuit. All day long, we saw Great Blue Herons in the shallows, sometimes seeing 4 of them at once. There were these cute little grebe-like birds, with even cuter babies in tow, paddling in the shallows. Mom is not fond of camping, and had rented a cabin up in the hills north of the lake. Wednesday evening we had a big family dinner up at this cabin, and on the way up out of the campground, we saw a mountain lion! It was crossing a little dirt airstrip, about 300 or 400 meters away from where our road crossed the airstrip. It walked off into the brush before we could get a pair of binoculars out. Later we asked one of the National Park Rangers about it, and she was jealous, having never seen one herself.
Six o'clock Thursday morning (oh-dark-hundred hours), we got up and headed east through the marshy part of the lake. We managed to get close enough to the little grebe-like birds to identify them as Pied Billed Grebes. The sun came up as we started down the east side of the lake. The water got deeper, and we were traveling along a steep bank with trees above us. Several of these trees had Osprey nests in them, and one had a Great Blue Heron on a dead branch. As we went under the Heron, a pair of Ospreys (one with fish still in claws) started diving at the Heron and trying to drive him farther away from their nest. The Heron would react by KRANKing, spreading his wings, and turning his head towards the Ospreys. It's not clear if he was really trying to peck at them with his long beak, or just trying to keep them in sight. Eventually, the heron had enough and jumped off he branch. As soon as this happened, one of the Ospreys dove at him! Marty has read about the sound that a diving Falcon makes as it cuts through the air, often described as "the sound of the air tearing". In the quiet morning air, we clearly heard this tearing sound, even though this was an Osprey and not a Falcon. The Heron heard it to, and tried to zig and zag, but with his huge wing surface area, he didn't dodge much, just lost a lot of altitude. The Osprey pulled up and they all went their separate ways. I said "Why can't we all learn to live together in Peace?", and Marty answered "Because we eat each others young". I had asked the rhetorical question as a metaphor of the animosity between humans, Marty had answered the literal question about the animosity of the two bird species. Being an optimist, I'm happy to imagine that humans have the capability to learn to suppress this behavior, while the birds will never learn.
We paddled most of the way down the lake, but skipped a few side channels. We turned around at Scott's Valley Dam, and I for one was disappointed that there was a barrier across the lake preventing us from getting close to the spillway. Then we headed back up the west side of the lake hoping we would get back to camp in time for breakfast. Marty was almost dozing off when she saw a white spot in a dead tree. Thinking that it was another osprey, she glanced at it with her binoculars, to find that it was a Bald Eagle! We had never expected to see one here, but our Park Ranger informed us later that there are two pairs of Bald Eagles on Lake Pillsbury. We paddled almost under the Eagle and sat there for 20 minutes holding on to a snag and admiring it. Marty hoped that it would decide to fly off, so we could watch, but it never did. Finally, we headed back to camp, which was in the middle of the north end of the lake. We glanced back from time to time and kept the dead tree in sight. From the campground we could still find the dead tree in the binoculars, and I could convince myself that I could still tell which white speck was the Eagle. So my brother Ralph warmed up his motor-boat and took a load of people out to see if it was still there. Marty and I went along to point out the tree, and it was still sitting there just as we had left it. When we got back to shore, another, and another load of Higginses (and Edwardses) went across the lake until everyone had a chance to see it. Marty and I sat on shore watching the tour boat go in and out. In the quiet moments, we watched a pair of Great Blue Herons dancing. Since it is no longer spring, Marty hypothesizes that this is a pair just doing some pair bonding ritual. We also watched the mother Grebe and her two young (from quite a distance) cross from our point to the next one west.
That afternoon, we participated in a "Hobo Caravan" across the lake to a swimming hole on the east shore. Our hobo caravan consisted of Ralph's motor boat pulling Ted's sailboat (no wind yet) which was tied to my Kevlar canoe, and finally the ocean kayak. Dad wanted to sit in the kayak, and disappointed a nephew or two who wanted that honor. The swimming hole had a sandy beach, some shady trees, a diving platform anchored off shore, and clear water before all the kids churned up the bottom. Marty and I "practiced our emergency procedures", which consisted of tipping the Kevlar canoe over and laughing and carrying on like a couple of teenagers. Actually, we did practice several combinations of getting in and out of the canoe WITHOUT tipping it over also. Marty tried out the ocean kayak, and I realized that she had never been in it since I bought it, over a year ago. Despite the fact that it was half full of water from a cracked storage hatch, she found it easier to control than the Kevlar canoe. After we drained the water out, she liked it even better. I'm beginning to fear that I'll have to get another one of these soon. I had cracked the storage hatch on the kayak by sitting hard on it (sort of falling on it) during a rough take-off at Gualala Beach some time ago. The lid had jammed shut, and the hatch was nearly impossible to replace until I took some time to get the lid unstuck. Ralph managed to get the lid unscrewed for me, but then it started taking in a lot of water every time the kayak was turned over by my nieces and nephews (something they especially liked to do when I was in the kayak).
The ocean kayak has "self scuppering holes" that allow water to drain out of the seat after a wave washes over you. They also allow and inch or so of water to come back up them, so you are always sitting in a puddle. (This is normally not a problem with a wetsuit on). For paddling in calm water, I purchased a plug kit when I bought the kayak, but had never tried them out. I stuck them in to try them out on lake Pillsbury, but being pulled across the lake at 5 or 6 miles an hour splashed so much water on dad that he was sitting in more than the usual inch of water. I figured he would be better off without them and took them out for the return trip. As Ralph pulled the hobo caravan back across the lake, it looked like the kayak with dad in it was leaning farther and farther backwards. It turned out that water was SPRAYING up out of the front two scuppering holes, and diving down into the crack around the hatch. Dad made strange hand signs and shouted at his two grand-kids in the Kevlar canoe, who shouted to us, and eventually we figured out what the hand waving was about. But when we stopped the motor boat, the water inside sloshed to the back of the kayak, and it dumped dad over backwards into the water. We rescued him, and tried to pull the kayak without a passenger, but it turned over and started fishtailing back and forth underwater. So we pulled it up onto the back of the motor boat and let most of the water out. Then I paddled it the rest of the way across the lake to the campsite under my own power. When we got back to civilization, one of the first things I did was buy a replacement hatch. A problem like this at sea would be a life threatening situation, and I can't go ocean kayaking until I install the new one.